Thursday, February 24, 2011

Having a Crabby Day - Wish You Were Here!

Half Moon Bay State Beach, February 6, 2011. 70 degrees & loving it!
While most of America was preparing for the annual bacchanalia known as Super Bowl Sunday on February 6, Bill and I took advantage of the unseasonably clear, warm weather and drove over the hill to explore Coastside, one of our favorite destinations. We had no real plan in mind except that we wanted to walk along the ocean and eat some good food. We got to the intersection of Highways 92 and 1 in Half Moon Bay and did a figurative coin toss – which direction shall we turn? Remembering that a cable installer, of all people, had told me about a great local spot in the Pillar Point Marina , we opted to turn north. We’d grab a bite to eat and then set out for a coastal perambulation from the marina.

The beauty of the day did not disappoint and we were among many non-football fans enjoying the 70 degree weather. Though the waves were pretty small and blown out, there were several dozen wetsuit-clad figures bobbing in the water along Half Moon Bay State Beach, and even more wishful surfers contemplating conditions, or rather the lack there of, from the road. Mavericks had been up a couple weeks ago, but any hope today of a killer wave had gone with tides. One rider did get a less than big wave experience, though.

The Ketch Joanne
There was plenty more action in the marina and by the crowd assembled at The Ketch Joanne & Harbor Bar we’d hit the right place to enjoy some local seafood. Bill’s Manhattan Clam Chowder was a flavorful alternative to the excellent New England version we savor at the The Old Port Lobster Shack in Redwood City, our fav inland stop for really authentic lobster rolls, fish ‘n chips, and chowda (the Portola Valley location is opening soon!). My crab cioppino had the perfect balance of heat, tomato, celery and essence of the sea, but boy, did I have to work it! Crab is not easy to eat! And for my taste buds, the deliciously sweet crab meat got lost in the flavorful spicy broth. As good as it was, in the future, I’ll pass on cioppino and go for a steamed crab, straight up with a butter chaser!

The Cricket, owned by Bill & Penny Webb
Leaving the Ketch, the Johnson Pier beckoned and we chose it over the coastal trail. The crab fleet was in port after their weekly trawling, and though it was late in the day, a few captains were still selling lives crabs from their decks. One boat caught our eye, wonder why?

We started down the companionway to check out The Cricket & Bill's Crabby Crab, as Admiral Penny, the captain’s wife, was coming up. “Do you have any crabs left?” we asked meekly. One simple question and we were delighted with Penny’s tale of all things crabby. No, they were sold out but were holding five good ones for a return customer who had called in their order earlier in the week. We learned that we needed to do this in the future to ensure any of The Cricket’s catch. “So, who should we get our crab from today, if there’s any left?” This opened a Pandora’s Box.

The Pillar Point Fleet
Though they are all basically competitors, crab fishermen are a tight knot clan filled with respect for one another, their craft and their product. But, according to Penny, they do not suffer those who flaunt the rules of seamanship (i.e., pinching others’ crab pots), cheat customers (i.e., selling sub par product at high prices) and do not follow the unwritten etiquette of the waters (i.e., rogues). And don’t get her started on those huge, out of state commercial vessels that come to Northern California’s Dungeness-rich waters! Alaska, Washington and Oregon all have state-mandated limits on the crab poundage they can bring in every season. California does not. Once those northern fisheries have been crabbed, ginormous boats (we’re talking 90+ footers) make their way south and begin dropping upwards to 1000 crab pots per boat, week over week. They take the lion’s share of crabs, load it all in a multitude of refrigerated 18-wheelers that fill the loading area at Johnson Pier and take their catch back to points north, not even selling any of it in California. 

Captain Bill with a friend
The 2010 crab catch was estimated to be among the best in recent memory but our own local crab men were out-fished by the larger out-of-state commercial boats. I have only Penny and Bill’s word on all this, but the lobbying on behalf of San Mateo County and Northern California fisherman in Sacramento during the previous administration fell on deaf ears. According to Penny, our previous governor was photographed with an official from those very out-of-state fishing companies who plunder Nor Cal waters during crab season. The Pillar Point fishermen are looking to the new administration to bring some realistic (and profitable) sense to the management of the fisheries that provide them their livelihood. They are hopeful that things will change. Enough politics, let’s get back to the day on Johnson Pier…

Margie with Capt Bill & Admiral Penny

Bill overseeing his crab selection
After our lively conversation with Captain Bill and Admiral Penny of The Cricket (with Cricket, the Jack Russell Terrier, the namesake dog, in tow),  Bill the Negotiator chose to peruse the wares at the several other boats that still had live creatures for sale. I chose to take photos of the marina. What Bill came away with, five large crabs for $30, and what I captured on a flash card, encapsulate a day of amazing beauty, new-found knowledge and just plain culinary delight. 

The Princeton Seafood Company  cleaned, steamed and cracked our pier-purchased crabs for $2.00 per crab, ready to take home. A better $40 was never spent!

Go Steelers! Oops, Go Green Bay!
While we waited for our dockside treasure to be prepped, we moseyed back into the Harbor Bar. The Super Bowl was in full swing and the bar, though not overcrowded, contained a lively group of fans for both competing teams. Our original intention was to ignore the Big Game all together, but we found ourselves drawn to the camaraderie that the day created and the crowd celebrating in the bar. We left at halftime, feeling we had done our duty as true Americans by watching at least a portion of Super Bowl XLV.

Once home, I began shelling our haul. I know now why cooked and shelled crab meat sells for $24 per pound! It is labor intensive, but the adventure we had acquiring it was worth the hour long process. The fresh crab melts we had for dinner were the topper to an extraordinary day!
Margie with crab pots on a beautiful Nor Cal day!

Make your own crab melts.
Take freshly cleaned, steamed and cracked crab and remove the sweet flesh from the shells. A labor of love, but well worth it!

Weigh the fruits of your labor. A pound shoudld be sufficient.

Mix in your favorite flavorings - mayo, lemon juice, diced red bell peppers - or not.
A virgin melt is just fine.

Top with sharp cheddar cheese - Cabot is a good choice. Avocados are a delicious addition!

Broil until the cheese is melted and golden brown. Then...
(Guess who ate the melt with avocado?)

Visit Pillar Point Marina and Capt Bill's Crabby Crabs. Enjoy a bit of local aquaculture, some great food and a few fish stories, too! Yes, that's a beached fishing boat tilting in the background!

Thanks to Bill & Penny Webb, The Ketch Joanne & Harbor Bar, Princeton Seafood Company and the weather gods for such a perfect day!
All photos taken by Margie or Bill MacKenzie

1 comment:

  1. Your writing takes me right there, Margie. Thanks for the lovely day at the marina.